Today is the feast of Our Lady of the Angels of the Portiuncula, the Virgin under whose mantle Saint Francis of Assisiwas wrapped; Mary’s maternal protection made it possible for blessed Francis to experience an intentse Presence of the Lord and to receive his vocation to rebuild the Church. The Portiuncula is also the place where Francis knew first hand the experience of being sustained by the Angels. Likewise his intimate devotion to the Blessed Mother, under whose protection did he place himself to do the Lord’s work did this place become holy for the members of the Franciscan family and for the Church universal. As a place of pilgrimage, the holy Portiuncula is a poignant reminder of how important the encounter with Christ was for Saint Francis and how much the encounter ought to be pivotal for us today. Without meeting Christ, little makes sense. Saint Bonaventure had this to say about this devotion:
The Portiuncula was an old church dedicated to the Virgin Mother of God which was abandoned. Francis had great devotion to the Queen of the world and when he saw that the church was deserted, he began to live there constantly in order to repair it. He heard that the Angels often visited it, so that it was called Saint Mary of the Angels, and he decided to stay there permanently out of reverence for the angels and love for the Mother of Christ. This is also the place where St Clare took her vows and where Saint Francis died.
Consider the words of an early biographer of Saint Francis of Assisi:
From there he moved to another place, which is called the “Portiuncula,” where there stood a church of the Blessed Virgin Mother of God built in ancient times. At that time it was deserted and no one was taking care of it. When the holy man of God saw it so ruined, he was moved by piety because he had a warm devotion to the Mother of all good and he began to stay there continually. The restoration of that church took place in the third year of his conversion. At this time he wore a sort of hermit’s habit with a leather belt. He carried a staff in his hand and wore shoes. One day the gospel was being read in that church about how the Lord sent out his disciples to preach. The holy man of God, who was attending there, in order to understand better the words of the gospel, humbly begged the priest after celebrating the solemnities of the Mass to explain the gospel to him. The priest explained it all to him thoroughly line by line. When he heard that Christ’s disciples should not possess gold or silver or money, or carry on their journey a wallet or a sack, nor bread nor a staff, not to have shoes nor two tunics, but that they should preach the kingdom of God and penance, the holy man, Francis immediately exulted in the spirit of God. “This is what I want,” he said, “this is what I seek, this is what I desire with all my heart.” The holy father, overflowing with joy, hastened to implement the words of salvation, and did not delay before he devoutly began to put into effect what he heard. (From The Life of Saint Francis by Thomas of Celano)
Read about and perhaps seek The Portiuncula Indulgence if you visit any Franciscan Church and observe the conditions for receiving the indulgence.
The Holy Father made reference to this in his Sunday Angelus address:
… today is the feast of the “Pardon of Assisi,” which St. Francis obtained from Pope Honorious III in the year 1216, after having a vision while he was praying in the little church of the Portiuncula. Jesus appeared to him in his glory, with the Virgin Mary on his right and surrounded by many Angels. They asked him to express a wish and Francis implored a “full and generous pardon” for all those who would visit that church who “repented and confessed their sins”. Having received papal approval, the Saint did not wait for any written document but hastened to Assisi and when he reached the Portiuncula announced the good news: “Friends, the Lord wants to have us all in Heaven!”. Since then, from noon on 1 August to midnight on the second, it has been possible to obtain, on the usual conditions, a Plenary Indulgence, also for the dead, on visiting a parish church or a Franciscan one.
A note about indulgences, which are often misunderstood. Indulgences are not forgiveness for sin but forgiveness for temporal punishment due to sin; that the residual effects of sin are forgiven.
Also, visit The Shrine website (read in 3 languages)
On this feast we pray
August Queen of Heaven, sovereign queen of Angels, you who at the beginning received from God the power and the mission to crush the head of Satan, we beseech you humbly, send your holy legions so that, on your orders and by your power, they will track down demons, fight them everywhere, curb their audacity and plunge them into the hell.
Who can be compared to God? Oh good and tender Mother, you will always be our love and our hope. Oh divine Mother, send the Holy Angels and Archangels to defend me and to keep the cruel enemy far from me. Holy Angels and Archangels defend us, protect us. Amen.